As Virtual Reality Matures, Fitness Applications Emerge

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2016 has been pegged as the year virtual reality goes mainstream by dozens of major news outlets, including NPR, BBC, and Fortune. Those predictions are all based largely on development timelines made public by Facebook for its Oculus Rift headset, which will appear in stores in 2016, as well as speculation that Sony’s PlayStation VR will be on shelves before the 2016 holidays. Others are nearing the point of having a marketable product as well, including Samsung and its Gear VR headset, and HTC’s Vive VR. Apple has also been rumored to be developing a VR platform as its next major initiative, though in typical Apple form, very little is known about the scope of functionality or timeline associated with that effort.

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As virtual reality makes it way in front of consumers, fitness applications are beginning to emerge. VirZoom, a virtual reality startup building exercise equipment and a library of games compatible across multiple VR platforms, has just announced the Q2 availability of its flagship product, a connected exercise bike. VirZoom’s exercise bike looks much like a conventional bike; however, the handle bars have been enhanced to double as game controllers, and when playing games that require driving, running, or other activities like horseback riding, users can propel and steer themselves within the VR game by steering and peddling the exercise bike. The bike will retail for $400, and VirZOOM plans to sell a supplemental $10 monthly subscription to users that will allow them to play games from its library. Alternatively, users can opt to pay a one-time $200 subscription fee. CEO Eric Janszen explains, “The games are specially designed to encourage interval exercise with periods of intense pedaling in response to game play, followed by periods of rest.”

Gamification has been a patient engagement strategy that many hoped would motivate users to make healthier choices by integrating those choices with video games that many already seem to dedicate hours to playing; however, gamification has seen only limited success in actually changing behavior patterns in real-world trials. As virtual reality moves into the gaming space, video game designers are going to be at a unique cross road in which they can begin integrating more physically demanding gameplay into the storyline of the video game. While virtual reality itself is not quite ready for this, it is encouraging to see that secondary startups like VirZOOM are already working on supplemental equipment to help bring about this reality.


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